Sadie Menzies

Sadie Menzies (1914 - 1996)

Sadie was born in Newtownards just before the start of the First World War. Her mother was a mill worker and her father was the chauffeur to the Dicksons, famous local rose growers, on whose land they lived in a tied cottage. Sadie left school at fourteen to do a secretarial course and then went to work in the general office of Anderson McAuley’s department store, on Belfast’s Royal Avenue. She met her future husband, Eddie Menzies, who had lost an eye while working in the shipyard and was now working as a professional dancer, at a local dance.  Eddie was also extremely political, and introduced Sadie to the small but active group of Communists in the town, for whom the only way to improve the lives of workers was through a war of ‘class against class’.  When Eddie received the sum of £250 as compensation for the loss of his eye, he invested it in a small newsagent in Templemore Avenue in East Belfast, which Sadie said operated ‘like an advice centre’ for nearby shipyard workers as her husband took people to the dole office and fought their cases for them.

Belfast was particularly badly hit by the economic depression of the 1930s, with mass unemployment and large numbers of people living below the poverty line. Sadie joined the Revolutionary Workers Party formed to oppose Capitalist exploitation and organise the emotion and anger generated by hunger.  She was centrally involved in the Outdoor Relief Strike of October 1932, an occasion which briefly united the poor of both Protestant and Catholic communities.  She also joined the Communist Party of Ireland and, as a member of the Friends of the Soviet Union, travelled to Russia, spending a month as part of a trade union delegation.  Her daughter Edwina, later to become a leading figure in the NI Civil Rights Association, was born in 1934. In 1944 Sadie was part of a campaign against the Rent Act being passed at Stormont and during the 1945 post-war election participated in the Communist Party effort to win seats. Although none succeeded, they polled well, with Betty Sinclair winning 2,500 votes in Cromac Ward. In the late 1940’s and 1950’s Sadie campaigned against the imposition of the Marriage Bar, which banned married women from working in the Civil Service or as teachers. Alongside Betty Sinclair, she took part in and helped organise International Woman’s Day events. They both attended an IWD march and rally in London in 1949.  In 1992 Sadie came to an IWD event in the Belfast City Hall and was presented with a bouquet of flowers by her friends and comrades. Until the end of her life, she remained a proud member of the Communist Party of Ireland.

Celebrating Belfast women: a city guide through women’s eyes Belfast Women’s History Tour